Blessed are the Pure in Heart.

The sixth beatitude deals with the human heart. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Jesus was likely drawing from Psalm 24:3-4, which says, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not ever swear deceitfully.” Jesus beatitude, as well as Psalm 24, make it clear that only those with a pure heart will see God. 

This presents a problem, though, because the one who says that only the pure in heart will see God (Jesus) is the same one who points out the deptavity of the human heart. As D. A. Carson put it:

Jesus’ assessment of the natural heart, however, is not very encouraging. Elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel he says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (15:19; cf. Jer. 17:9; Rom. 1:21; 2:5).

The human heart, “the center of the entire personality,” is sinful and corrupt. Every person is born with a wicked heart. Therefore, no one can see God based on their purity of heart.

Thankfully, it is possible to have our hearts made clean. In Psalm 51, David confesses his sin, confident that God can create a clean heart in him (vs. 10). He prays in repentance and faith for a clean heart. Likewise, we can receive clean hearts through repentance and faith in Christ. When we turn from sin and trust Christ, our hearts are purified and we are enabled to see God. This means that, ultimately, our ability to see God is based on Christ’s work and not our own. Praise God for Christ’s death and imputed righteousness, whereby sinners receive a clean heart and can see God “now spiritually…and in fullness after Christ returns” (Osborne, Matthew, ZECNT, Kindle Location 3352)!

Blessed are the Merciful.

The fifth beatitude deals with the extension of, as well as the reception of, mercy. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). At first glance, it seems like Jesus is saying people must first extend mercy to others before they receive mercy from God. Indeed, this is how some people interpret the passage. As D. A. Carson explained, “Some try to interpret this verse legalistically, as if to say that the only way to obtain mercy from God is by showing mercy to others: God’s mercy thus becomes essentially contingent to our own” (Carson, The Sermon on the Mount, 23). Is this the correct interpretation? Is Jesus saying God’s mercy is contingent upon our showing mercy towards others? I think not.

Mercy means “to be greatly concerned about someone in need, have compassion, mercy, pity” (BDAG, eleeo). So, does God only show us compassion when we show compassion to others? Again, I think the answer is no. Why? Because God’s mercy and grace is not dependency upon human works. God doesn’t extend grace or mercy based on our actions. This would be a “works righteousness” or works-based salvation,” which Scripture roundly condemns. So, if Jesus isn’t saying we have to show mercy to receive mercy, what in the world does He mean?

To put it simply, those who have received mercy and salvation will show mercy and compassion to others. The mercy they show is proof they have received God’s mercy in the past, as well as proof they will receive God’s mercy in the future. As Turner put it, “Those who have experienced God’s mercy will show it to others (Matt. 18:21–35) and so demonstrate their destiny as those who will yet receive mercy at the last day” (Turner, Matthew, BECNT, 152). Christians who have received God’s mercy will extend that mercy to others, and they will yet again experience God’s mercy on the last day.

So, we should show mercy to others, not in order to receive mercy, but because we have already received mercy. And, we should thank God for His mercy towards us, who deserve eternal judgment but receive everlasting life!

Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). The fourth beatitude deals with righteousness, which seems simple enough, but there is debate as to what Jesus means when He says “righteousness.” Is He talking about imputed righteousness, or is He talking about right behavior? David Turner argued Matthew (and Jesus) were not talking about imputed righteousness, which is a more Pauline concept. He wrote:

Protestant Christians who are used to reading Paul may think that Matthew is speaking of the imputed righteousness of Christ (cf., e.g., Rom. 5:1–2), but this forensic sense is not a Matthean nuance. Here the emphasis is on the practical side, the upright lifestyle (Turner, Matthew, 152).

Morris presents a more balanced view (and I believe a better view) of righteousness here in Matthew 5:6. He wrote:

Righteousness is often used in the New Testament for the right standing believers have before God because of Christ’s atoning work, but this is often said to be a Pauline concept rather than one that Matthew sets forth. Now it is plain that Matthew has a strong interest in the upright living that should characterize the servant of Christ, and we must not try to turn him into a pale shadow of Paul. But we must not minimize his emphasis on grace either (cf. v. 3). Specifically we should notice that he is not suggesting that people can make a strong effort and achieve the righteousness of which he is writing: it is a given righteousness, not an achieved righteousness. The blessed do not achieve it but hunger and thirst for it. They will be filled, which surely means that God will fill them (cf. 6:33, “his righteousness”) (Morris, Matthew, 99).

Morris acknowledges the practical aspect of righteousness, but he also emphasizes the positional dimension of righteousness. Christians are to seek to live righteous lives, but their righteousness is an imputed righteousness (not an earned righteousness).

If both of these aspects of righteousness can be seen in this verse, we should respond in two ways. First, we should praise God for the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us. It is not an earned righteousness; it is a received righteousness. Second, we should hunger and thirst for practical righteousness. That is, we should desire to live holy and righteousness lives…and Jesus says that those with this desire will be satisfied! God will enable those who desire to live godly to actually live godly!

Blessed are the Meek.

In Matthee 5:5, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” As David Turner put it, “God’s inaugurated reign will eventually result in humble disciples, not arrogant tyrants, inheriting the earth” (Turner, Matthew, 151). While the world often thinks those with power money or popularity will “inherit the earth,” Jesus reminds us of the importance of meekness and humility.

Turner described meekness as “an unassuming humility that rests in God (Ps. 37:7) and renounces self-effort to relieve one’s oppression and to achieve one’s desires” (151). This should be true of Christians, since we have abandoned attempts at self-salvation and trusted in Christ for salvation. The gospel produces humility in us, driving us to forsake self-righteousness and rest in God’s grace.

Are you meek and humble? Have you allowed the gospel to humble you and lead you to forsake self-justification and trust God’s grace? Has the gospel humbled you and given you a greater appreciation for God’s grace? Christian, rest in the gospel and let it produce authentic humility in you!

Blessed are Those Who Mourn

The second beatitude deals with mourning and comfort. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). This mourning is two-fold: it includes mourning over personal sin, as well as mourning over the sin present in society. Blomberg wrote, “Mourning includes grief caused by both personal sin and loss and social evil and oppression” (Blomberg, Matthew, 99). Christians should mourn over the sin in their own lives, as well as the sin that pervades their culture and the world.

The result of mourning our sin is the comfort of God. Only those who mourn their sin will “turn to God for forgiveness and help” (Osbourne, Matthew, Kindle Location 3296). Only mourners of sin repent and experience the grace and comfort of God. Those who mourn, however, will be comforted by God.

So, let’s be mourners. Mourn your own sin, and let your brokenness drive you to the cross. Mourn the sin around you, and pray for God to work in the midst of our sin-filled world.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. The first beatitude from Jesus is as follows: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Jesus begins by acknowledging the “blessedness” of the poor.

This seems a strange way to start the sermon (Jesus probably wouldn’t have gotten an “A” in a homiletics class for this introduction). Nevertheless, it is interesting. Why does Jesus start off with the “poor?” Because only those who recognize their poverty (spiritually) will trust Christ and enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus was not speaking to economically poor people (although there are certainly economically poor people who are “poor in spirit” and for Jesus’ description here). Instead, He is talking to those who are “poor in spirit,” or those who humbly recognize their spiritual poverty and need for grace. It is those who recognize their spiritually destitute position who will humble themselves, turn from sin (repent), and believe the gospel (faith). 

Here is the question: are you “poor in spirit?” Do you recognize your spiritual poverty and the need for God’s grace? Do you understand that you are spiritually broke and needed Jesus to pay the price you could never pay? Only those people will enter the kingdom of heaven. They are the ones who are truly blessed.

Best Resource for the Sermon on the Mount.

Most exegetical commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew will provide in-depth analysis on the Sermon on the Mount. Osbourne’s commentary (in the Zondervan Exegetical NT series, which I have been citing in this series of blog posts) provides some helpful insights, as do the commentaries by Nolland (NIGTC), Turner (BECNT), Morris (PNTC), and Blomberg (NAC). Keener’s socio-rhetorical commentary is also helpful (but massive!)

The best non-commentary resource, in my opinion, is Carson’s brief work on the Sermon on the Mount. Carson explains each section in a straightforward manner, and he applies the text to modern believers. As I work though the Sermon on the Mount, I plan on utilizing Carson’s work, so stay tuned for the next few posts!

The Sermon on the Mount and Justification.

I have been going through Matthew’s Gospel, and now I have arrived at the Sermon on the Mount. I plan on spending quite a bit of time studying this, and I will share my discoveries and thoughts as I go along. Before digging into the Sermon on the Mount over the next few weeks, let me point out the audience: disciples. Matthew wrote, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him” (Matthew 5:1). The sermon was directed towards people who were already following Jesus; they were already His disciples. 

Why is this important to point out? Because I have heard people point to the Sermon on the Mount to argue for “works righteousness.” I have witnessed to people who believe Jesus was teaching that our righteousness must exceed the Pharisees (which is true), which means have to obey all the commands to be righteous (which is wrong…and impossible!). Our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, but all our righteous works are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Our righteousness can never exceed that of the Pharisees. Jesus’ statement is not intended to boost out self-confidence or drive us to obey God’s commands in order to be saved. Instead, it is intended to remind us we are incapable of being righteous and to cause us to seek a righteousness that is not our own. In short, it is intended to drive us to the gospel.

The gospel reminds us that we are sinners and incapable of earning forgiveness through works. So, Jesus took our sin on Himself and died on the cross so that we could receive His righteousness. Our sin in exchange for Jesus’ righteousness…what an exchange! Ultimately, the Sermon on the Mount reinforces the gospel, not challenges it. Unbelievers are not being challenged to obey to become righteous. Instead, believers are being reminded that (1) their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, (2) they cannot exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, and (3) they must rest in the righteousness of Christ that is imputed by grace through faith in His subtitutionary death. Praise God for sending Jesus Christ to take our sins so we could be made the righteousness of God!

Popular Jesus.

Matthew seems to describe Jesus as “popular.” That is, He has a lot of people following Him around. In Matthew 4:25, Matthew wrote, “And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” Jesus seemed to have quite a following.

I wonder what attracted most of these people to Jesus. Was it His unique preaching and teaching? Was it His miracles? In this passage, Matthew doesn’t come out and say it, but he seems to imply that the crowd has gathered due to Jesus’ healing ministry. Nothing draws a crowd like sick, paralyzed, and demon-possessed people being healed, it seems.

As I read this passage, my mind rushed forward to the cross. Where were these people on that tragic yet victorious day? Were they yelling “crucify Him?” Were they hiding, like the disciples? Were they at the cross, like the women? It is hard to say. But I can say this with confidence: many of the people comprising this crowd did not continue to follow Jesus long-term. They may have initially been excited but quickly drifted away, or they may have lasted a little while longer but eventually run out of gas. Either way, they did not stick with it.

Sadly, the same thing seems to be true today. Many people make a decision to follow Jesus, but it doesn’t last. Or, they make a commitment that lasts a little while, but they eventually burn out. Genuine believers, however, will not turn back from following Jesus. Instead, they will follow Him because He endured the cross, rose from the dead, and sent His Holy Spirit to indwell and empower them. Their continued faithfulness is not based on their own strength or power, but on the One who redeemed them. So take confidence in this, Christian: “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Continue pursuing Jesus, and remember that He is faithful to finish what He started!

Preaching, Teaching, and Healing.

Matthew 4:23-25 provides a summary of Jesus’ ministry. As Osborne wrote, “The three participles of v. 23 (teaching, preaching, healing) pretty much say it all” (Osborne, Matthew, Kindle Location 3055). He goes on to say these participles describe “Jesus’ powerful ministry” (Kindle Location 3055). The rest of Matthew’s gospel will flesh these our, culminating in Christ’s greatest work: His substitutionary death on the cross.

The ministry of Jesus reminds us of the importance of teaching and preaching, as well as the importance of meeting physical needs. Jesus Christ shared the gospel (vs. 23), but he also performed miracles and healed the sick (vs. 24). Christians must be faithful to share the truth, but they should also seek to imitate Christ and meet physical needs when possible. Let’s seek to do these two things faithfully.